Work in Sports
Once again, Mets prove first is always best
Updated: Tuesday October 17, 2000 7:56 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- The formula for winning in this year's National League Championship Series seemed simple enough. Make sure you had the lead after the end of the first inning.
Worked every time.
And if you had a leadoff hitter like New York's leadoff man ... well, heck, then you're flat-out golden.
The first-inning magic worked again Monday, for the last time it had to work, in Game 5 of the NLCS. The New York Mets, spurred by leadoff man Timo Perez, jumped on St. Louis Cardinals starter Pat Hentgen with a three-run first inning on their way to a 7-0 victory, taking the best-of-seven series four games to one and advancing to their first World Series in 14 years.
"It's been a series where there's been lightning in that first inning," said Mets first baseman Todd Zeile, who pounded a three-run double in the fourth inning.
The Mets sent nine men to the plate in Monday's first inning. They spread around four well-timed hits, stole one base, worked a couple walks and hassled the Cardinals into two errors and what maybe should have been one more.
And it all started with Perez. The right fielder, filling in for the injured Derek Bell, led things off with a single up the middle, just under the glove of shortstop Edgar Renteria. It was the fifth straight game he reached base in his first at-bat.
With Perez at first and Edgardo Alfonzo at the plate, Hentgen was in deep trouble just two batters into the game.
"That guy," said St. Louis pitcher Andy Benes, who won Game 3 for the only Cardinals' win in the series, "you can't put a value on what that guy does."
With a 1-0 count to Alfonzo, even after one throw over to first to keep Perez close, Perez bolted for second anyway. The pitch was a strike, giving St. Louis catcher Carlos Hernandez a good chance to try to nail Perez at second.
But Hernandez's throw bounced in front of second baseman Fernando Vina (the catcher was charged with a throwing error) and into center field, and Perez slipped over to third with no one out.
"He's a player who can make a difference," Mets teammate Lenny Harris said in a champagne-soaked clubhouse afterward. "A lot of people don't know what he's going to do next. I don't even know what he's going to do next."
Alfonzo ripped Hentgen's next offering toward shortstop, and Renteria tried to backhand it, but it scooted under his glove and into left field. Perez scored, and the Mets had all the runs they would need.
"[Perez] makes the pitcher very aware of the fact that he's over there," Benes said. "I think he really gives Alfonzo a better opportunity to get fastballs to hit. And Alfonzo is one of the better hitters in this game as it is."
Two batters later, Robin Ventura singled home Alfonzo for the inning's second run.
Zeile came up next and grounded a ball to Vina, who tossed to Renteria for a force at second. But Renteria's throw to first to complete the would-be double play dove under first baseman Will Clark's glove. That scored Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who had walked earlier in the inning, with the last run of the inning.
That's all they needed to play, really. With the first-inning history of this NLCS, everyone knew who was going to win at that point.